Shadows on the Ivy: An Antique Print Mystery (Antique Print Mysteries (Paperback))

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9780743475587: Shadows on the Ivy: An Antique Print Mystery (Antique Print Mysteries (Paperback))
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Antique print dealer Maggie Summer is teaching a college course on "Myths in American Culture," using prints by Currier & Ives and other nineteenth century artists to illustrate her points. As a faculty advisor, she's also dealing with the problems of students who are single parents: problems that turn dangerous when a young mother is poisoned, and events twist Maggie's own thoughts about motherhood. She suspects a sinister connection between the past and the present, and her prints could provide valuable clues. But some secrets are too hard to see -- even for an expert like Maggie -- and some crimes hit too close to home...

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About the Author:

Lea Wait made her mystery debut with Shadows at the Fair, which was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel. Shadows on the Ivy, the third novel in her acclaimed series featuring Maggie Summer, is forthcoming in hardcover from Scribner. Lea comes from a long line of antiques dealers, and has owned an antique print business for more than twenty-five years. The single adoptive mother of four Asian girls who are now grown, she lives in Edgecomb, Maine. In addition to the Antique Print mysteries, Lea Wait writes historical fiction for young readers. Her first children's book, Stopping to Home, was named a Notable Book for Children in 2001 by Smithsonian magazine.
Visit her website at www.leawait.com.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter 1

The Banquet Where the Really Grand Company Were Assembled in the Elfin Hall. Lithograph by Arthur Rackham (1867-1939) from Hans Christian Andersen's Fairy Tales, 1912. Rackham was a major Edwardian illustrator who specialized in magical, mystical, and legendary themes. His work influenced the surrealists. This print is of a large room crowded with elves, animal-people, trolls, fairy princesses, and other imaginary creatures who are dining on frogs and snails and sipping from cups overflowing with frothing beverages. 9.75 x 7.75 inches. Price: $70.

Dorothy and Oliver Whitcomb's home was elegant, their food delicious, and their bar open, but Maggie Summer wanted to be at home sorting prints for next weekend's Morristown Antique Show. Her roles as an antique-print dealer and a college professor sometimes complemented each other, and sometimes conflicted. Today they conflicted.

She shifted her weight from one foot to another, cursing her decision to wear the sexy crimson silk heels that had tempted her at the Short Hills Mall last evening. Women alone on Saturday night should not be allowed to go shopping! Last night the shoes had made her feel young and alluring. Today they just hurt. An hour ago a small blister had appeared on her left little toe.

Her eyes wandered from four of John Gould's prints of hummingbirds that were hanging near the windows to the six hand-colored steel engravings of Burritt's 1835 view of the sky at different seasons that hung over the large black marble fireplace. The Whitcombs were devoted customers of Maggie's antique-print business, Shadows. They were also Somerset College trustees and major donors. When they issued an invitation, she accepted.

The Whitcombs had spent almost as much on framing as they had on the prints, but the result was worth it. The Burritts fit especially well in this room. The delicate figures drawn between the constellations blended perfectly into a library furnished with comfortable leather chairs and couches. Knowledge of the past combined with desire to know the future. Maggie walked closer, admiring the familiar star-defined astrological patterns. As always when she looked at the stars, she looked for her sign, Gemini. Two figures; two destinies.

Did the stars represent her two professions? Or her two emotional selves...the self-contained, intelligent, respected woman most people saw...or the frustrated, conflicted self she hid beneath the surface? Were either of them the sexy lady in red heels?

Gemini was green in this edition of Burritts. Green for jealousy? Jealousy of those for whom the patterns of life seemed to fall into place so easily. Career...marriage...children...The white wine was taking her mind down paths she didn't want to follow. At least not right now.

Maggie turned her thoughts to business. She had another edition of these Burritt engravings in her inventory at home. Should she pay to have them matted and framed? They'd be much more striking if they were framed, but she'd have to charge considerably more for them. How much more would people pay so they could take artwork home from an antique show and immediately hang it on their living room wall? She might experiment with the Burritts. She could use some good sales. If customers wanted frames, frames she would give them. She made a mental note to consult Brad and Steve, her local framers.

Her next beverage would be Diet Pepsi -- with caffeine. And maybe she could scavenge a Tylenol from someone. She sighed, looking around the room again. If only she'd resisted wearing the red heels.

Across the room Dorothy Whitcomb was talking to freshman Sarah Anderson, backing her up against a bookcase filled with what appeared to be nineteenth-century first editions. They were probably just decorator leather bindings purchased by the yard, but in this setting they worked almost as well as the real thing. Neither Dorothy nor Oliver were, to Maggie's knowledge, book lovers. Certainly they weren't antiquarian-book collectors. But major donors to Somerset College should have an elegant library. It was part of the unwritten job description. And no doubt why the Whitcombs chose to host this reception in their library rather than in their equally posh living room.

Sarah's shoulder-length red hair was bouncing as she nodded at Dorothy politely. Twenty-three-year-old Sarah was pretty, but not too patient. She wouldn't listen forever. She had clearly dressed up for this reception. For Sarah, gray slacks and an almost-matching turtleneck was about as elegant as her wardrobe got. Dorothy never seemed to consider that the scholarship students she invited to her "informal get-togethers" (read "cocktail parties") might find dressing for these occasions a financial challenge. Maggie sighed. She should rescue Sarah. Would her feet hold up?

Paul Turk provided a welcome interruption to Maggie's gloomy thoughts. "Help! I know the Whitcombs, and some of the students, but I'm getting weary of smiling."

Maggie lightly touched Paul's arm in friendly understanding. His cologne was an attractive spicy scent, with traces of musk. Not the usual aftershave he wore on campus. Very nice. She moved out of range of the scent. Her life was complicated enough just now.

Paul was the newest member of the American Studies faculty. A corporate dropout, and former Wall Street associate of Oliver Whitcomb's, he'd had the inside track for a teaching opening this fall when he'd decided to capitalize on his master's in American history and exchange his windowed office at an investment firm for a small cubicle at Somerset College. Slender, and taller than Maggie at perhaps five feet ten inches, Paul had started to let his brown hair go a bit shaggy, and the look was good for him, even if it was obvious that he was consciously transforming himself into his vision of what a history professor should look like. She suspected the female students she'd seen loitering outside his office were suitably impressed.

Paul's office was next to hers, and she often helped him with "new kid on the block" issues. "It isn't the smiling during these parties that's so challenging," she said, "it's knowing that you have to smile."

He raised his eyebrows and nodded in agreement. "As always, the voice of experience. On your way to the bar?"

"Turning in my white wine for a diet soda."

"And here I was going to pour you one of my perfect Grey Goose martinis."

"Not tonight, thank you," said Maggie as they reached the table of drinks. "But you can do the Diet Pepsi honors. Or maybe I'll just have a Virgin Mary."

"Your choice. Everything's here. I helped Oliver set all this up earlier."

"I'll stick with the Diet Pepsi," Maggie decided. "With caffeine."

Paul reached past empty bottles of vodka and Scotch for the last bottle of Diet Pepsi on the do-it-yourself bar. "Looks as though our fellow guests have been joining us in taking full advantage of the libations." He moved several empties to an overflowing carton beneath the table and replaced them with full bottles.

They moved aside to make room for their host, a big, white-haired man of perhaps sixty whose navy suit had been made to order for his large build. The tailor had succeeded. Oliver looked every bit the wealthy suburban gentleman.

"Enjoying yourself, Paul?" said Oliver. "I'm afraid the company here is a bit tamer than what you're used to in New York," he added, giving Paul a knowing cuff on the arm. He opened the bottles Paul had pulled out and refilled pitchers labeled "orange juice" and "Bloody Mary mix."

Paul added to the ice bucket from the chest on the floor next to the table.

"I wish we'd hired someone else to set the drinks up, but Dorothy thought the students would find a bartender ostentatious." Oliver shrugged. "The caterer could have supplied us with someone."

Paul grinned at him. "How could anyone possibly think you and Dorothy were ostentatious?"

"Hard to imagine, isn't it?" answered Oliver with a bit of a twinkle, looking around the mahogany bookcase-lined room that was almost as big as the basketball court in the new gymnasium he had bankrolled at the college. "Dorothy does like to act the grande dame. I'd be just as happy on a smaller stage. But, hell -- 'if you've got it' -- and all that. In any case, have fun. You, too, Maggie." He nodded at her. "I've got to get back to playing host."

Oliver headed across the room toward the college president, Max Hagfield, but was intercepted by a group of students Maggie didn't recognize.

"Those students work out at the gym," Paul answered her unspoken question as they watched. "Oliver will no doubt now expound on the merits of the weight machines he's ordered for the gymnasium." Paul raised his martini to Maggie's cola.

"The Whitcomb Gymnasium," she corrected as they clinked glasses and moved away from the bar. Campus gossip reported that Oliver had donated the gym on the condition that he, as a member of the Board of Trustees, could use it at any time, and he'd made sure it contained the equipment he'd preferred at New York's Downtown Athletic Club. The gym had been completed just in time for his retirement. Max Hagfield had eagerly accepted the gymnasium, the weight machines, and any conditions attached to them. "Did Oliver work out that much in New York?" Maggie asked. His large figure didn't appear to have been honed during long workout hours.

"Pretty regularly," Paul said. "But talk to me about the scholarship students who are here tonight. Are they all part of Dorothy's pet project to save the world?"

Oliver Whitcomb had donated the gym; his wife's inspiration was to create a special dormitory for single mothers and their children. No doubt seeing a possibility for great publicity and improved community relations, Max had agreed. Dorothy had spent the past year purchasing a large Victorian house across the street from the main entrance to the college, having it brought up to dormitory code, and, of course, redecorating it. Whitcomb House was now home to six single parents, each with enough living space for the student and one child each...

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